Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal published a review by Joanna Stern that was written to help readers pick the best Web browser (see Find the Best Web Browser for Your Devices: A Review of Chrome, Safari, and Edge). In weighing the value of Chrome, Safari, and Edge against one another, Stern wrote "Since [Microsoft's Edge browser is] new, Web developers haven’t really focused on it, so Web apps can be slow or erratic”; a statement that, as the editor in chief of ProgrammableWeb, caught my eye. Not only because Edge, as a browser (and Microsoft as a company), have come a long way in terms of supporting developers who want their applications and sites to run unchanged across browsers. But because the real question in my mind when it comes to choosing browsers should probably analyze performance tradeoffs in the context of Web app and site compatibility.
For example, a browser could be lightning fast at some tasks. But, is that speed worth it if the same browser can’t support modern Web apps? Would you really prefer a browser that renders an ugly unusable page faster than other browsers that take a few more milliseconds to render the user experience correctly, as the developer intended?
Here at ProgrammableWeb, this is the sort of thing we think about every day. That’s because, compared to the days when Web APIs were pretty much all there was when it came to the Web as a programmable platform, now, the programmability of Web browsers — fueled in large part by APIs that are built into the browser -- is every bit as important as Web APIs. In fact, in the not too distant future, our API directory will include browser APIs in the same way that it covers Web APIs today.
But, even as this potential utopia started to take shape — particularly during the Internet Explorer years -- Microsoft trailed on the fronts of compatibility, interoperability and support. While the Web leaned in the direction of Flash, Microsoft went with Silverlight. Then, while Google and Mozilla raced ahead to enable the best possible Web experience for end users, Microsoft sought to protect its legacy. In fact Microsoft seemed to be a bit of an obstructionist to the development of such standards because of how they eroded the value-add of Windows as the underlying operating system. It wasn’t that long ago that then Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer scoffed at the notion of browser-based applications like Google Apps (now “Google For Work”) and the cloud. After all, as Web apps get richer (thanks in part to the W3C standard APIs) and draw closer to the speed and capability of native applications, the underlying operating systems can’t help but be marginalized, thus paving a way towards a more Web-centric future of the sort that inexpensive browser-only technologies like Chromebooks cater too. It was a world that didn’t exactly fit Microsoft’s business model.